10 March 2011

the truth about cork and dogs

After I showed off our new kitchen, I got by far the most questions about the cork floor... Is it good with kitchen moisture? Is it good with dogs? Is it durable? Does it dent easily?

I'll be sharing some info over the next few weeks about how and why we chose some of the key materials in our kitchen, along with their pros and cons. Up first: the floors. So here's a little info based on our experience so far (and an excuse to show pictures of my terribly photogenic little Chelsea).

First, before debating the merits, let me lay out my favorite things about cork, the big PROS, and the things that sold us on it:
  • It feels WARM underfoot, not C-O-L-D like tile.
  • It's a completely renewable resource, and contains less glue and icky chemicals than any other engineered flooring.
  • It's a nice smooth surface for dancing and sliding around in socks (this is critical!).
  • It can be laid over existing tile, which would not have been true if we'd chosen a different tile, and installation overall is really easy.
  • The cost is really reasonable compared to anything but the cheapest ceramic tile (before you add in the cost and time of scraping up the old tile, which is a thankless task).
But now... on to the debatable stuff and your questions.

Let's start with dogs.

We have two dogs, and I don't think they could damage the cork if they tried. Of course, they're awfully little.

Chelsea's nails are way too long right now, but even then, I don't think the floors are in any danger of getting scratched.

Bigger dogs? You might have a problem, but then again, you might not. I suspect that with a lighter shade of cork, you'd never see most scratches either way, but with this dark stain, you'd definitely see a scratch if it reached to the lighter cork underneath. That said, we did a lot of work on top of the floors after they were installed, and we didn't create even any little scratches, and we were only somewhat careful. I tried to scratch a scrap piece of the floor with my fingernail, and I had to work pretty darn hard to do it. The cork we bought claims that it has several coats of anti-scratch something or other on it, and so far it seems to be working.

Verdict: Scratches are not a huge threat, but if it will stress you out, get a lighter shade or cork or pick another floor. 

So what about dents? Dents are a big issue, and one you should consider carefully before choosing cork. The floor is soft, so heavy things like appliances, furniture, etc., will definitely dent it. If we moved any of our appliances, we'd see not only big dents from where they are sitting now, but we'd likely create new ones wherever we moved the appliances, even if only for a minute. (This was quite nerve-wracking when building our wine bar and moving the h-e-a-v-y wine fridge.)

Knowing we wouldn't be moving stuff around, we were okay with that, but it might not work for you. We also chose furniture with the floor in mind to avoid creating dents from the legs. See the pub table set behind Chelsea, that is, if you can even manage to look past her charming visage.

We purposely chose a set that had circular bases, so no table or chair legs would put dent-worthy pressure on the floor. Same deal with the buffet (an Ikea Expedit bookcase turned on its side, so once again no legs).

Verdict: Dents are for real. Make sure you know that before you lay down cork.

As for installation, cork couldn't be simpler. Because it is made of a soft, insulating material, you only need the most minimal underlayment, and no additional cushion or sound buffer. And because it's engineered, it comes in big, wide planks, so there are fewer total planks to install. It is a floating floor, though, so while it's easy to install, it may never feel quite as solid as a floor that's glued or nailed down. (Hard to describe what a floating floor feels like, but I know it when I feel it.) Don't like that feeling? You could glue it down also if you wanted to.

Verdict: Easy to install, but feels like a floating floor.

Cost: Something that we've learned along the way as we've researched a whole bunch of flooring options for the many rooms we've now renovated: the cost of the flooring is not accurately reflected by the per-foot cost shown. Our flooring cost $64 per case, each of which includes 17 square feet, for a per-foot cost of ~$3.75. But another floor that costs $3.75 per foot might net out to more or less in the end. It all depends on what else needs to go down before the floor can be laid, and what extra charges you might be looking at if you pay someone to install it.

When we bought our espresso stained bamboo floors that we have in our living and dining rooms, we didn't need a vapor barrier because bamboo is fine with moisture and because we're on the second floor (so no water will be seeping in unless the great flood cometh), but we did need a cork sound buffer since we were laying the flooring right on the concrete slab, which would mean a LOT of noise for our downstairs neighbor. That added about a dollar per square foot in materials, and another $.50 per square foot in labor cost. Suddenly our $4 per square foot bamboo was costing more like $8 with installation. Engineered cork, on the other hand, is pretty basic, and should come with a pretty reasonable installation cost, unless you're installing it below grade, in which case you might want a better moisture and vapor barrier.

Verdict: The cost is pretty reasonable, but make sure you know everything that's required before making your purchase (that goes for all flooring).

As for overall durability and moisture-resistance, so far I'm pleasantly surprised. We started out being pretty careful with the floor, afraid that we'd chip the finish, dent it with everyday activities, or hurt it with water. But it really seems to shrug off water, nothing we've dropped has dented it yet, and we haven't seen any chips. Sweet. All in all, we're happy.

Verdict: If you love how cork looks and you don't think denting will be an issue in your situation, go for it!

Liked the dog pictures? Here are some more, from Chelsea and Bella's monthly weight check, measured with a pasta bowl and a food scale. (I know. I'm sure we're giving them a complex.) No, it's not off-topic! It's showing the new kitchen from a different angle! ;-)

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  1. The floors look amazing, but your girls steal the show :)

  2. Oh my gosh I don't know if I love those doggies in the scale or your kitchen more!! Being the owner of a Chihuahua, you KNOW I love those pictures!! Oh my gosh, the scale....those faces being in the scale.....the idea of you putting them in the scale....Ohhh I'm ga ga over this post! P.S. Love your cork floors too but ooohhhh those babies! Loves and kisses to them!

  3. Thanks for all the info on cork flooring! I love that you weigh them in a food scale! And that they stay in it! PRECIOUS! :)

  4. I found your post looking for an article about dogs and cork to answer someone on Houzz. We have cork floor in our kitchen and dinette and LOVE it! I'm always happy to find another cork-advocate. I will say though, that we have a table with legs in our dinette, and have had no problem with denting. You can take a look here: http://www.dejongdreamhouse.com/2012/11/diy-dinette-decor.html

    (I just realized we have the mover feet still on the legs in this picture. Regardless, no dents!) And we have the freezer on cork in our pantry. No dents there, either!

  5. baby pictures are NEVER off topic.... reminds me of when I got my Chihuahuas -- I had them in a basket while I did errands, at the post office ladies asked for the basket and then weighed each of them on the postal scale. LOVE small-town living!
    and thanks so much for the comprehensive review -- I am moving forward with cork for my kitchen, and possibly the adjoining family room/great room as well!

  6. Astonishing that your girls stay still for this! I weigh my two boys (cats) on a baby scale, which I bought specifically for that purpose. (Each cat weighs about twice what your dogs do; a bowl is out of the question!) They've finally learned that staying still for the required half-minute gets the process over so much faster. Lovely kitchen, by the way.


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